July 2017

Noted
by Stephanie Bishop

‘Between Them’ by Richard Ford
Bloomsbury; $18.99

One writes, Richard Ford claims, to counteract an “enduring truth of life: the world often doesn’t notice us”. A writer’s life is lived in the service of “noticing and being a witness”. One of the most acclaimed American novelists of his generation, Ford is best known for his Frank Bascombe series: The Sportswriter, Independence Day, The Lay of the Land and Let Me Be Frank with You. The affable yet elegiac tone of Bascombe’s narration now resurfaces in Ford’s transition to memoir.

Between Them: Remembering My Parents is comprised of two separate essays. The first focuses on Ford’s father, Parker, and the second on his mother, Edna. Both parents came from the rural South, where there was little money and minimal education. Ford tells a story of them rising to higher stations than anticipated, but which, in retrospect, appear modest and underwhelming.

Parker started off as a grocery boy and became a travelling salesman for the Faultless Starch Company, servicing the southern states with Edna accompanying him. Things changed with the arrival of their only child. Parker then travelled alone, returning home on weekends, and Ford came to know his father as someone who was absent. He and his mother formed their own semi-closed unit, which carried on until his father’s sudden death in 1960, when Ford was 16. The essay on his mother addresses what occurred after his father’s death: Ford’s transition to adulthood, the intensity of the bond between a mother and an only child, and Edna’s death in 1981.

“To write a memoir”, Ford claims, “and to consider the importance of another human being is to try to credit what might otherwise go unremarked”. In pondering this, however, Ford is brought up against his own “incomplete understanding”. While Between Them was undertaken in order to “remedy my longing by imagining them near”, it is just as much a record of lapses and blanks. Ford adopts a speculative mode, with provisional portraits evoked by missing details: “And how was it for him? Driving, driving alone? Sitting in those hotel rooms, in lobbies, reading a strange newspaper in the poor lamplight … smoking?” Oftentimes, Ford develops the scene in the negative: “I don’t remember the time of year of his heart attack … I don’t remember it being cold or hot.”

As a consequence, what is most moving is less the story told than the nature of the inquiry: the long view taken by a son trying to imagine what his parents felt about their own lives, what these lives were like before him, and what they have become in memory.

Stephanie Bishop

Stephanie Bishop is a lecturer in creative writing at the University of New South Wales. Her new novel is Man Out of Time.


View Edition

In This Issue

A pain in the tooth

What happened to Australia’s publicly funded dental system?

‘The Last Man in Europe’ by Dennis Glover

Black Inc.; $29.99

Killing our media

The impact of Facebook and the tech giants

Illustration

Word wranglers

Meet the team behind the Macquarie Dictionary


Read on

Image of Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in HBO’s Succession season 3. Photograph by David Russell/HBO

Ties that bind: ‘Succession’ season three

Jeremy Strong’s performance in the HBO drama’s third season is masterful

Image of a tampon and a sanitary pad viewed from above

A bloody shame: Paid period leave should be law

Australia’s workplace laws must better accommodate the reproductive body

Image of Gladys Berejiklian appearing before an ICAC hearing in October 2020. Image via ABC News

The cult of Gladys Berejiklian

What explains the hero-worship of the former NSW premier?

Cover image of ‘Bodies of Light’

‘Bodies of Light’ by Jennifer Down

The Australian author’s latest novel, dissecting trauma, fails to realise its epic ambitions